Live at the Globe with Dara Ó Briain review – a tempest of great gags

<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

If you must enter the stage hobbling, a cane tapping the ground at your side, you might as well do so where there’s a laugh just waiting to be claimed. “Is this the winter of our discontent?” squawks Dara Ó Briain, fresh(ish) from a knee operation and making his maiden appearance at Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s a bulletproof start to a joyful and loose set from the Mock the Week man, who’s clearly delighted (who wouldn’t be?) to be performing on this famous stage.

His opening gags are all about the distinctions between a cane (suave, debonair) and a walking stick (not so much), as Ó Briain adjusts to life with a gammy leg. Hitting a fine groove of self-mockery, his set ranges across the Dubliner’s cowardice (reviewing CCTV footage of his garden after a burglary), his weight (savouring the euphemisms private medicine uses for “fat”) and his historical ignorance. It’s an upbeat, excitable 20 minutes – even by Ó Briain’s standards, the verbal flow is torrential – savouring several varieties of his own indignity.

Nina Conti.
Sending the show skyward … Nina Conti. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

These include his experience in 2020 performing at drive-in standup shows – a phenomenon that’s proving itself lockdown’s most enduring gift to comedy. Tonight’s MC, Jen Brister, opens the show with her wonderfully sour riff on gigging in the Covid era: “I’ll tell you what I hate about Zoom: my face!” Athena Kugblenu pitches in on new motherhood, the experience of raising a mixed-race child (half north London, half south), and her campaign to conquer racism with sex.

A likable 15 minutes of light social satire, ending on a cliche about British cuisine, Kugblenu’s contribution keeps the show afloat, while never sending it skyward like Nina Conti’s opening set. Conti could probably deliver this routine (attaching goofy masks to two volunteers, then ventriloquising them to life) in her sleep. But mainlining all the hilarity of audience participation and none of the cruelty, and delivered by Conti with quick wit and a light touch, it’s such a reliable crowd-pleaser. “Turns out,” tweets Ó Briain post-show, that Shakespeare’s Globe is “a perfect room for stand-up”. He’s not wrong.